It seems we’re all into signs these days. Everybody wants to kick-start others’ assessment of who we are, what we’re about, and what kinds of categories they can put us in. We’ve have signs on cars, trucks, buildings, flags, T-shirts, websites, and tattoos on our skin. We know things about people we don’t even know—nor particularly want to know. I learned on our commute to work this morning that some guy has an opinion about cats. Nice.
I wonder, if we had to distill the most important thing we would want the world to know about us into something we could stick on the bumper of our car, what would it be? Hopefully, not our opinion about cats. I am repeatedly intrigued, though, by the things people do choose to reveal about themselves—what they do, what they believe, who they support, and dangers they feel are important enough to warn people about that they might not be aware of – like this one … “Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy, and good with ketchup.” Who knew?!! One of my favorites simply said, “Stop reading my bumper sticker, and go get one of your own.” I did the first part. If I wanted to do the second part, it certainly wouldn’t relate to my opinion about cats. I would want it to say something about God’s forgiveness.
Beginning on Monday, June 23, I’ll be presenting a four-part mini-series on that subject, called ‘Forgiveness by the Book’, and if you live in the area, please consider joining us. You can check out the details by clicking here or on the ‘Upcoming Events’ tab above. The series is free, and if you have children, they can participate in the Vacation Bible School activities while we explore forgiveness together.
Our ultimate handling of the subject, and especially God’s command for us to forgive others, is inextricably connected to our personal experience with it–our own ‘forgiveness story’, if you will. God was clear about that when He said through Paul that we are to forgive “… one another as God has forgiven [us]” (Eph. 4:32). Again, the followers of Jesus are admonished to be, “…Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another…even as Christ forgave you, so also must you do” (Col. 3:13). Carrying out that directive requires that we know what it means to have been forgiven by Him. That makes our own experience and our own story a very important consideration when it comes to the challenge of dispensing it to others.
I had a friend once who used to be a pretty good fisherman, at least as he told it. He could recount every detail of how he landed prize-winning catches on light tackle in challenging circumstances—exciting tales of heart stopping, angling acrobatics that flowed out of his mouth smoother than oil. Listening to him, you’d get the distinct sense that this is not the first time he’s told that story. Truth is, some of his friends could tell those stories almost as well as he did. Contrast that with situations most of us have encountered where someone was sort of backed into sharing their ‘God story’ unexpectedly and they seemed awkward and uncomfortable, as though they might get it wrong or something.
If our personal forgiveness story has become only a vague, rarely visited, and nondescript piece of our religious timeline, then our lives will reflect that, especially when it comes to forgiving others. God doesn’t share the view that our forgiveness is a milestone we passed years ago. He meant it to be the very atmosphere we live in every day, and the story we can’t stop telling. It is the wellspring out of which flows every hope we have for anything good in our lives right now. Forgiveness provides the only possibility of His acceptance and approval, and a place in His house forever. It is our only connection to love that never fails, strength that never diminishes, and hope that never fades. It is the place where we can bring everything broken in our lives, no matter who broke it, or how. It is the place where we find there’s peace that can overrule and overcome every turmoil we create, and where joy lives in abject defiance of the circumstances that challenge it. Forgiveness is the one thing that we could not lose and still retain anything of lasting value. It is the one acquisition that carries with it the sum total of every treasure, and in such a form that no thief can steal, no government can confiscate, and no force can destroy. Forgiveness leaves nothing incomplete—nothing unperfected. Quite simply, it is everything. It connects us to the One without Whom there is only persistent frustration and emptiness, and eventual devastation and ruin. Forgiveness is a relentless and continuous exhibition of the heart of God toward us, and to live without that conscious awareness in this chaotic world is both tragic and unnecessary.
Every kind of philosophy and personal preference imaginable seems to find its way to somebody’s bumper, trunk, license plate, tailgate, or rear window. On the back of my car, there’s is a little raised plastic thing that simply says, “Forgiven”. If I have one thing to declare to the world about me, that is it. In the final analysis, it is the only thing about me that ever made anything else about me worth anything at all. Without it there is only the painful, empty, and frustrating madness of life without purpose and meaning. If I had anything that I could bequeath to the world and everyone in it, it would be that. If I could choose an epitaph for my grave, it would be that. If I am ever moved to fall down and worship, it is to worship the One who looked at me in the broken and hopeless chaos of my life and offered me that. Forgiveness for me will never be ‘yesterday’. It lives in every fleeting moment of ‘now’. It is forever ‘today’, and it is every ‘tomorrow’ that I will ever be blessed to see.
© 2014 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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